Rebels end losing slide, get much needed Mountain West win
In search of a much needed win, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels returned home to deliver it in front of their home fans to end a season-long four-game losing streak.
Facing the Wyoming Cowboys, UNLV downed the visitors, 86-72, Tuesday, Jan. 24 from the Thomas & Mack Center. The loser of this game fell to last place in the Mountain West.
Prior to this outcome, the Rebels were winless in their last three home games.
“We struggled with stacking practices in the summer,” fifth-year guard EJ Harkless said. “Now, it’s on us to stack games.”
Overall, UNLV is now 13-7 on the season and 2-6 in the Mountain West. Currently, the team is 10th in the conference standings.
Up next, the team will conclude a two-game homestand as it welcomes the Nevada - Reno Wolf Pack into the Thomas & Mack Center for the first of two meetings between the rivals. That game is scheduled to be played Saturday, Jan. 28 with tip-off slated for 7 p.m.
“It’s always different after a win,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “The film is different, walking into the gym is different, the day off is different. So it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Harkless scored 13 straight points to fight off another Wyoming comeback, ensuring a UNLV win.
“That’s been the biggest thing over our stretch where we’ve struggled,” fifth-year guard Jordan McCabe said. “We’ve got to get [Harkless and sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert] in spots to make plays because they can make them for themselves and others.”
Harkless’ 13 straight points happened over the final seven-plus minutes of the game. He finished with 28 points on 8-of-15 from the field including 20 points in the second half.
Earlier in the second half, the Rebels went up by as many as 15 points before the Cowboys made a run to trim the deficit to six points on a 14-5 run. Eventually, the visitors would get the lead down to five.
UNLV responded with a prompt 11-0 run to run the lead back to double-digits and eventually to 16, the team’s largest of the game. Wyoming would once again respond with a 9-0 run to cut it to seven.
“For a split second, you’re like, ‘No way. Come on,” Kruger said. “The guys have been through enough in the last few weeks. [The Cowboys saw] some shots go in that were really tough, really tough.
“That’s what was different about tonight than maybe in the last few weeks. Even though the situation was a little bit different, there wasn’t anybody hanging their heads. There wasn’t any sense of, ‘here we go again.’”
Needing the defense to step up, Kruger’s group held the Cowboys scoreless for the last 4:12 of regulation.
While the Rebels were only able to hold their opponent to 41% shooting from the field including 42% from deep, the team did counter with 54% from the floor and a 55%-mark from three.
“I thought the guys did a really good job of attacking the rim,” Kruger said. “Of course, I haven’t seen it yet on film but when we go back and watch it on film, the plays where we had bad spacing and the plays where we over-dribbled will really stand out.”
Gilbert was the only other starter in double-figures with 12 points to go along with eight rebounds from his starting point guard role.
McCabe scored 10 of his 12 points off-the-bench in the first half including a logo three just before the halftime buzzer. That shot sent the home team into the break up 10.
“It was huge,” Kruger said. “For him to make that three was just big because it kind of countered the three [Wyoming] had just made. Ten on the scoreboard looks a lot different than the seven.”
McCabe also added a team-high four assists on the night. As a team, UNLV compiled 14 assists on 29 made field goals.
After putting up five assists in the entire first half, the team picked up five assists in the first six-plus minutes of the second half. According to Kruger, things go bad for the Rebels when the ball sticks on offense.
“That and spacing,” Kruger said. “If you combine [passing and spacing] you can really point to every stretch where we’ve struggled.”
Fellow reserve Keyshawn Hall added 10 points off-the-bench including six straight during the team’s 11-0 run late in the second half.
McCabe and Hall’s effort helped UNLV win the bench production battle, 28-3.
“Sometimes, it’s just about cycling guys through in shorter stretches,” Kruger said. “Just go out there, try to have fun, play hard and try to get lost in the game.”
The team was without senior guard Luis Rodriguez, who injured his groin on the road against Fresno State.